The Seahawks appear to be on some sort of mission independent from whichever opponent the schedule makes them play on a given Sunday. They have performed well enough to beat a good team such as Dallas without coming out flat against the Arizonas of the world. Expect another solid effort against 2-7 San Francisco on Sunday at Monster Park. Seattle is already 4-0 in the NFC West after sweeping St. Louis and Arizona. This is the Seahawks' first game against the 49ers. At this point, anything less than a 6-0 finish in the division would have to be viewed as a disappointment for Seattle.
"We have to prove to the world that we are the best," running back Shaun Alexander said. "That is what we are shooting for and it starts with winning the division. We play the 49ers twice and we don't want to get caught up in the same situation we did with the Rams last year."
The Seahawks became complacent and lost a big lead to the Rams early last season. They ended up getting swept in the series and barely hanging on for the division title. This season is different. Seattle has a three-game lead in the NFC West. The team also has a five-game winning streak on the line.
"It is better to take care of them the first time you play them," Alexander said, "and that is what we are going to try to do."
Seattle holds all the advantages against the 49ers. The Seahawks own the NFL's top-ranked offense. They rank third in red-zone offense and second in red-zone defense. They have allowed 30 points in fourth quarters this season, second-fewest in the league. They are facing the NFL's last-ranked offense, its last-ranked defense and a team that has been outscored 100-16 in fourth quarters.
Alexander appears headed for another big day. He leads the NFL in rushing (1,114 yards) and touchdowns (17). In fact, Alexander has scored five more touchdowns than the 49ers this season.
The temptation might be to peek ahead one week to the Seahawks' Nov. 27 home game against the Giants, and to take the 49ers lightly. "I already talked to them about that today," coach Mike Holmgren said. "But I think in this business if you're not ready to play on Sunday, regardless of who your opponent is, you're going to get beat.
"Every Sunday you can look at the scores and see a game that surprises the heck out of you and that is what happened. One team wasn't ready, the other team was ready, even though they may have been an underdog and they win the football game."
SERIES HISTORY: 13th meeting. Tied 6-6. Seattle has won the last four games in the series, including 42-27 and 34-0 last season as the 49ers bottomed out. Seattle owns a 3-2 record in San Francisco. Coach Mike Holmgren has a 9-3 career record against the 49ers.
--Coach Mike Holmgren said he has encouraged acting defensive coordinator John Marshall to be aggressive in his play-calling. The Seahawks rank second in the league with 30 sacks because they have good team speed and linebackers with a knack for blitzing. LB Leroy Hill and LB Lofa Tatupu have combined for 7 1/2 sacks in their rookie seasons.
"It's been my experience that guys calling defenses - other than Fritz Shurmur, who didn't care two hoots what I thought - that they will think, 'Well, how does this affect the offense?' " Holmgren said. "Sometimes I have to click him on (the headset) and say, 'Hey, don't worry about me, go after them. Let's be more aggressive.'"
--TE Jerramy Stevens has 28 receptions through nine games. He'll earn another $125,000 in salary next season if he reaches 45 catches. That figure jumps to $200,000 if he catches 50 passes and $300,000 if he reaches the 60-catch plateau.
"He's playing great," QB Matt Hasselbeck said. "I read sometimes some of the quotes from the opposing coaches after the game and they are very complimentary towards Jerramy and talk about what a weapon he is and what a threat he is and how he puts them in a tough spot where they have to decide how they're going to cover him.
"He's just playing with a lot of confidence right now. One of the things that he's doing really well right now is he's got great releases off the ball. He's getting off the ball quick and people are trying to jam him at the line of scrimmage and he's getting away from them."
BY THE NUMBERS: 8 - The number of red-zone sacks by the Seahawks this season. Seattle's defense ranks tied for second in red-zone touchdown percentage (40.0). The red-zone sacks are a big reason why. Opponents have scored 22 points on the eight red-zone drives that included getting sacked by Seattle.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Everybody is always asking me about pressure and one-year deals. I don't think like that. My whole mind frame was to go out there and play. Be better than last year and that is all I am trying to do." - RB Shaun Alexander, who is playing under a one-year deal.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Vision might be what separates RB Shaun Alexander from other running backs. He is also benefiting from playing in an offense that has been together for several years now. RG Chris Gray is making his 100th consecutive regular-season start. Pro Bowl LG Steve Hutchinson and C Robbie Tobeck have been in the Seattle lineup since 2001. Pro Bowl LT Walter Jones has been starting for the Seahawks since 1997.
"What impresses me is the combination and of his vision, his running and that offensive line and how they block for him," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "He seems to play off their blocks extremely well. But I think he has great vision and the holes are there as opposed to some backs can't even find them."
--RB Shaun Alexander has scored five more touchdowns than the 49ers this season. A few more big games and he could approach 2,000 yards.
--WR Darrell Jackson met with his orthopedist in Florida on Tuesday, but he had not contacted the Seahawks with an update on his knee as of Wednesday, coach Mike Holmgren said. Jackson could return as early as the Nov. 27 game against the Giants, but there is not yet a definitive timetable. Jackson has not returned to practice.
--DT Marcus Tubbs did not practice Wednesday. He is questionable. Tubbs might test his injured calf Friday, but a decision on his status might wait until game time.
--LB D.D. Lewis practiced Wednesday. He was not on the injury report. Knee problems have bothered him this season.
--LT Wayne Hunter returned to practice Wednesday. He had been sidelined by a hamstring injury. The team listed him as questionable on its injury report.
GAME PLAN: Seattle's offensive and defensive lines match up quite well against the 49ers. The Seahawks should be able to run the ball effectively with RB Shaun Alexander and even RB Maurice Morris, who topped 100 yards during a blowout victory over Houston earlier in the season. The Seahawks will find out whether RT Sean Locklear can handle 49ers OLB Julian Peterson without help. Locklear shut down Rams DE Leonard Little last week. This is another good challenge for the second-year pro from North Carolina State. Defensively, the Seahawks should have little trouble given the 49ers' obvious problems at the quarterback position. Seattle ranks second in the league with 30 sacks.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Seahawks RT Sean Locklear, making his 10th career start, vs. 49ers OLB Julian Peterson, who missed part of last season with a torn Achilles' tendon. Peterson has only 2 1/2 sacks so far this season. Locklear has held up well against some tough opponents, including Rams DE Leonard Little last week. This is another chance for Locklear to prove he's a long-term solution on the right side.
Seahawks C Robbie Tobeck, a crafty but undersized veteran, vs. 49ers NTs Anthony Adams and Isaac Sopoaga. Tobeck often needs help against the game's bigger and more physical interior linemen. He gets a bit of a break in this matchup. If Tobeck can handle his matchups with Adams and Sopoaga, the Seahawks should be able to unleash all facets of their league-leading offense.
INJURY IMPACT: The team does not appear to miss injured veteran SLB Jamie Sharper, who could miss a few more games. The depth could be tested depending on whether LB D.D. Lewis can play a second consecutive game on his troublesome knee. Seattle has enough young depth at the position to hold up against the 49ers in this matchup. The 49ers also lack the defensive personnel to make Seattle pay for the absence of WR Darrell Jackson, who could return from knee surgery next week. DT Marcus Tubbs missed the St. Louis game last week. Seattle didn't miss a beat, holding Rams RB Steven Jackson to 70 yards. Tubbs could return this week, but Seattle can function without him.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
While the 49ers' offense continues to be laughably bad, the club has started to get fairly solid play from its defense. But the 49ers will get a big test Sunday against the NFC West-leading Seahawks, who come to Monster Park with a 7-2 record. The Seahawks have one of the best running backs in the league, Shaun Alexander, and they boast a passing attack that has been solid under the direction of quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. The 49ers will make their fourth change at quarterback in the last six games, as Ken Dorsey gets the nod.
The team does not expect much out of the league's worst offense, so the onus falls on the defense to keep the 49ers in the game against the powerful Seahawks. The 49ers will send a secondary onto the field that includes only one starter who began the season in that role.
"I'm concerned, but that's the way of the world for us right now," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "I guess you do have a choice of what you could do about the situation. You could cry about it, but that's not going to do any good." The 49ers will start a unit that has a combined 32 starts, with 21 of those coming from right cornerback Shawntae Spencer.
Free safety Mike Adams began the season as the nickel cornerback. He has started the last six games after taking over for Mike Rumph. And Bruce Thornton, claimed off waivers from the Cowboys early in the season, has started five games in place of Ahmed Plummer. The newest addition to the lineup is Ben Emanuel, who takes over at strong safety for Tony Parrish.
Parrish's streak of 121 consecutive starts to begin his career comes to an end because of a broken left leg. Parrish sustained the injury early in last week's game against the Bears. Emanuel was signed to the 49ers' practice squad on Oct. 4 after the Panthers, who drafted him in the fifth round, released him. He has worked into a role as a nickel linebacker. And now he becomes the starter.
The 49ers' fifth defensive back is rookie Derrick Johnson, who has eight games of NFL experience on his resume. "You'd love to have 30 years of experience among those five guys, but they don't," Nolan said. "I know they'll fight hard, and they'll go out there and give us their all, which they've done here recently.
"The defense, and those players in particular, have played very well. This will be the biggest challenge that we've had over the last few weeks."
Two weeks ago, the 49ers played well against the Giants. The 49ers allowed the Giants to score just 10 points in the first three quarters before the 49ers' offensive woes put such a large strain on the defense. The 49ers have struggled getting anything going on offense, which regularly places the team's defense in bad situations. In fact, 78.9 percent of the 49ers' offensive drives have consisted of one or fewer first downs.
The 49ers have mastered the three-and-out, as they've failed to make a first down on 53.2 percent of their possessions this season.
Quarterback Ken Dorsey will get his second shot at doing something about that this week. His lone start resulted in one of the 49ers' two victories for the season. But he sustained an ankle sprain in the fourth quarter of a 15-10 victory over the Buccaneers on Oct. 30. It was the first time since 1978 that the 49ers won a game in which they failed to score a touchdown.
Dorsey will get the starting assignment over rookie Alex Smith, who returned to practice this week for the first time since sustaining a right knee sprain Oct. 23 against the Redskins. Smith is expected to return to the starting lineup Nov. 27 against the Titans. Cody Pickett started the last two games for the 49ers. Last Sunday against the Bears, he suffered through a miserable day in windy conditions at Soldier Field. The 49ers completed a franchise-low one pass in 13 attempts in a 17-9 loss to the Bears.
"Ken was listed as the second guy prior to getting hurt and he did a good job when he was in there," Nolan said. "He had a lot to do with the fact that we won the (Tampa Bay) game just by the way he managed the offense. I just feel more confident that Ken is better prepared right now to take that role."
SERIES HISTORY: 13th meeting. The series is tied 6-6, though the Seahawks have won the last four meetings. Last year, the Seahawks recorded a 34-0 shutout of the 49ers, ending an NFL-record scoring streak of 420 games dating to 1977.
--Coach Mike Nolan watched in horror as the Bears' Nathan Vasher returned a missed field goal 108 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the first half last week. Strange occurrences are not altogether new to Nolan. This is Big Game week in the Bay Area, with Cal and Stanford meeting on Saturday. Nolan was an assistant at Stanford in 1982 during the miraculous Cal victory on the kickoff return known as "The Play."
"In the press box everybody was saying, 'It's over,'" Nolan said. "I started getting real nervous. I was thinking, 'Oh, no, no, no, no. Don't say it's over.'" The reason Nolan was not ready to count it as a victory was because he had been a ball boy with the 49ers in 1972 when the 49ers thought they had a playoff victory over the Cowboys. But Dallas scored two touchdowns in the final 90 seconds for a 30-28 victory.
"That scarred me for life," Nolan said. "So ever since then, when people are yelling, 'It's over, it's over,' I've always said, 'Guys, just wait until it's over, and then we'll talk about it.' To this day I've always been that way." Nolan said the Stanford coaches in the press box started arguing among themselves. When the Cardinal kicked the go-ahead field goal in the final seconds, they left enough time on the clock for a Cal kickoff return. "We had a little ruckus in the press box," Nolan said. "That was the people saying it was over vs. the people who said, 'Why didn't you wait until four seconds (were left to kick the field goal)?' It was ugly. It went all the way to the elevator, pushing, shoving. It was an ugly elevator. I didn't get in."
--The 49ers hired Scot McCloughan to replace fired Terry Donahue as the club's de facto general manager. McCloughan pieced together an impressive resume in his years as a scout with the Seahawks. And, now, the 49ers face the team McCloughan helped put together. "As an overall football team, they are very talented," Nolan said of the Seahawks. "As a matter of fact, I feel that Scot McCloughan is to a large degree responsible for that. So we're holding that against Scot this week as much as we can."
--Rookie quarterback Alex Smith returned to practice Wednesday and will serve as the backup to Ken Dorsey. Smith has not played since sustaining a right knee sprain Oct. 23 against the Redskins. He is likely to return to the starting lineup next week against the Titans. But if Smith is healthy enough to serve as a backup, why isn't he healthy enough to start Sunday against the Seahawks?
"The difficulty in planning for a football game is that if you do put all your eggs in one basket because you think he might be ready and they say he might be ready, then you go out and do all the prep work, you don't want to lose a day or two into preparations if he's not ready," Nolan said. "He's pretty close to being ready. As soon as I'm confident that he is where they say he is, then Alex will be back in the role of the starter."
--The 49ers promoted rookie receiver Marcus Maxwell to the 53-man roster from the practice squad. In recent weeks, Maxwell declined the New York Jets' and Green Bay Packers' overtures to place him on their active rosters. When asked if it was a difficult decision to stay on the 49ers' practice squad when he could have been making three times as much on the active roster of another team, Maxwell said, "Not for me. I wanted to follow my heart. And my heart is right here."
Maxwell, whom the 49ers selected in the seventh round of the draft, has a chance to be a very good player. He is 6-foot-4 and is one of the fastest players on the team. He was injured during most of training camp, and then sustained a foot injury that kept him off the practice field for about six weeks.
--Rookie offensive lineman Adam Snyder is moving to left tackle this week after making his NFL starting debut a week earlier against the Bears at right guard. Snyder said the experience last week was a nice first step before being placed into the most important spot on the offensive line. "Playing last week helped get a bunch of the nerves out," Snyder said. "It's hard starting your first game as a rookie. I have to bring my lunch pail. It's going to be a hard day of work."
The 49ers do not envision Snyder as a long-term answer at left tackle. Jonas Jennings is expected to return to that spot next season, leaving Snyder to compete for a job at either guard position or at right tackle against Kwame Harris. "This game is going to lay the foundation for hopefully years to come," Snyder said.
--The 49ers will present former quarterback Steve Young with his Hall of Fame ring at halftime. Young was inducted into the Canton, Ohio, shrine in August. The club plans to retire his No. 8 jersey at some point next season.
BY THE NUMBERS: The 49ers have not scored a touchdown in three consecutive games, setting a franchise record for futility.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't want to say that you have to weather the storm, but when you're building it the right way, you're going to go through a process. There's a reason that we were 2-14 last year, so now you have to build it up right. As we all know there are a lot of things that play into that. At some point I want the goals and the purpose to come together and be one. Right now they're separate." - 49ers coach Mike Nolan.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Coach Mike Nolan said it has been part of the plan to work rookie linemen Adam Snyder and David Baas onto the field in the second half of the season. Snyder will start Sunday against the Seahawks at left tackle after getting his first career start a week earlier at right guard. Baas has not seen any action on offense this season, but that could change Sunday. "Those guys are the future of our offensive line, those young players," Nolan said. "And we feel at this point that they're ready to start getting in there and playing more. I think Adam is ready to move in there. I think he'll compete well."
Snyder started seeing practice time at left tackle after Jennings was injured and the club determined rookie Patrick Estes, a converted tight end, might be in over his head at the position. Snyder's first starting assignment comes against Seattle defensive end Grant Wistrom, an eight-year veteran who has 47 career sacks.
Snyder was first envisioned as a right tackle when the 49ers selected him in the third round with the No. 94 overall selection. He moved to right guard when Baas sustained a torn hamstring prior to training camp.
--WR Marcus Maxwell, a talented rookie, has been elevated from the practice squad to the active roster. Maxwell declined to sign with the Jets and Packers when he was on the practice squad, he said.
--TE Terry Jones was claimed off waivers from the Ravens, a team for whom he played his first four seasons in the league. The 49ers have gotten virtually no production out of its tight ends this season. Steve Bush, Billy Bajema and since-released Trent Smith have combined for just nine catches for 57 yards.
--SS Ben Emanuel will take over in the starting lineup after Tony Parrish's season ended with a broken leg. Emanuel, who joined the team on Oct. 23, has seven tackles in four games.
--FS Keith Lewis will see an expanded role on defense with the injury to Tony Parrish. However, the club does not want him to play all the time on defense because he has been such a valuable contributor on special teams.
--WR Johnnie Morton is likely to start for the seventh time this season because of an injury to Arnaz Battle. The 49ers like what Morton has brought to the team from a leadership standpoint, but they never envisioned him playing as much as he has been forced to do. Morton has just 14 catches for 162 yards this season.
GAME PLAN: The 49ers have been a much better team at home this season, playing competitive football and earning both victories at Monster Park. In order for the 49ers to succeed, they must use their threat of the running game to open things up for the passing attack. The 49ers are sure to see eight defenders in the box. They have to be able to take advantage of some one-on-one matchups on the outside, though neither WRs Brandon Lloyd nor Arnaz Battle has shown an ability to make consistent plays against single coverage. Battle will probably miss Sunday's game with a knee injury, and backup Johnnie Morton has not shown great playmaking ability, either.
The 49ers' best hope on offense appears to be rookie RB Frank Gore. He has performed very well while getting about half the carries as starter Kevan Barlow. But Gore has shown a much more effective running style than the ultra-talented Barlow. Gore is good at finding a crease in the opposing defense and hitting the hole hard. Meanwhile, Barlow does a little too much dancing for the liking of the team's coaching staff. When he hesitates in the hole, it allows fast defenses to swarm to him. Still, coach Mike Nolan has been impressed with Barlow's play. He said he has noticed vast improvements in his play from what he saw on film last season. "I think (RB coach) Bishop Harris has done an outstanding job with Kevan Barlow," Nolan said. "Kevan is twice the back he was last year, if not more than that. And he's getting better all the time. It's unfortunate that Kevan really hasn't reached his potential as a player. Even three years ago when he had one of his better seasons, he's a better back (now) than that."
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
49ers LOLB Julian Peterson, one of the team's top performers on a pass-rush threat on the outside, vs. Seahawks LT Walter Jones, who is in the first year of a seven-year, $52.5 million contract.
49ers FS Mike Adams, who has gotten caught committing to the run and then trying to recover to cover a tight end, vs. Seahawks TE Jerramy Stevens, who has 28 catches for 385 yards and two touchdowns.
49ers run defense, which has yielded just 3.7 yards a carry to the opposition, vs. Seahawks RB Shaun Alexander, who leads the league with 1,114 yards and has averaged 5.4 yards a carry with 17 TDs.
49ers LT Adam Snyder, making his first career start at this position because of Anthony Clement's ineffectiveness, vs. Seahawks DE Grant Wistrom, a long-time NFC West nemesis of the 49ers.
49ers RT Kwame Harris, who has struggled with the snap count in recent games, vs. Seahawks LE Bryce Fisher, who leads the Seahawks with 6.5 sacks.
INJURY IMPACT: QB Alex Smith (right knee) is no longer on the injury report. He will serve as the backup for Sunday's game against the Seahawks. ... Center Jeremy Newberry missed his first game of the season because of a bothersome right knee. He will not practice this week but is expected to return to the starting lineup. ... WR Arnaz Battle (right knee) is not expected to play this week after aggravating a sprain that has bothered him since the Sept. 25 game against the Cowboys. ... TE Billy Bajema (right shoulder) missed practice early in the week but has a good chance to play in Sunday's game against the Seahawks. ... FB Fred Beasley (neck) sustained a stinger last week. He is listed as questionable for Sunday's game. If he is unable to go, Chris Hetherington would get the start. ... LS Brian Jennings (concussion) is listed as questionable but he is expected to play. ...
LB Saleem Rasheed is expected to miss at least one more game after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus cartilage. ... CB Ahmed Plummer (left ankle) is available to play in Sunday's game, but the 49ers will stick with second-year player Bruce Thornton. ... RB Maurice Hicks (right knee) returned to practice two weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. He is expected to return kickoffs on Sunday. ... WR Derrick Hamilton is still on the physically unable to perform list after sustaining a torn ACL in the off-season. He is not expected to play this season. ... FS Tony Parrish (left leg), LT Jonas Jennings (right shoulder), LB Jeff Ulbrich (left biceps), CB Mike Rumph (foot), TE Eric Johnson (foot) and WR Rashaun Woods (thumb) are on injured reserve.
CONNECTIONS: 49ers QB Cody Pickett played at the University of Washington. Pickett passed for 4,458 yards in 2002 setting school and Pac-10 records. 49ers 6th round pick CB Derrick Johnson and Pickett played with Seahawks TE Jerramy Stevens at the University of Washington. 49ers S Tony Parrish played at the University of Washington. 49ers Head Coach Mike Nolan coached Seahawks LB Jamie Sharper in Baltimore. Seahawks Head Coach Mike Holmgren started his coaching career at his alma mater, Lincoln High School in San Francisco. Holmgren went on to join the 49ers staff in 1986. From 1986-1988 he coached the quarterbacks under Bill Walsh. In 1989, he became the offensive coordinator under George Seifert for three seasons. Defensive Coordinator Ray Rhodes began his coach career in 1981 with the 49ers. Rhodes coached for the 49ers for 12 seasons, becoming one of only four to serve on the coaching staff of all five 49ers’ Super Bowl teams (George Seifert, Bob McKittrick, Bill McPherson).
Defensive line coach Dwaine Board began his coaching career in 1990 as a defensive line assistant with the 49ers. In 1994, he became the defensive line coach where he served until coming to Seattle in 2003. Seahawks O-line coach Bill Laveroni coached at San Jose State and for the San Jose Sabercats in the Arena League. Seahawks LB coach John Marshall coached defensive line (1989-1993), Linebackers (1994-1996) and was the defensive coordinator (1997-1998) for the 49ers. 49ers FB Terry Jackson played with Seahawks WR Darrell Jackson at Florida. (1996-1998). Seahawks CB Jimmy Williams played the previous four seasons with the 49ers.Seahawks DE Joe Tayofa lives in Pittsburg, CA. 49ers S Keith Lewis played with RB Maurice Morris at the University of Oregon. Seahawks T Wayne Hunter and 49ers DT Isaac Sopoaga were teammates at the University of Hawaii. 49ers LB Saleem Rasheed and WR Jason McAddley played with Seahawks RB Shaun Alexander at the University of Alabama. 49ers Vice President of Player Personnel, Scot McCloughan, served as the Director of College Scouting for the Seahawks for the past five years.